Health is going to be a concern for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2013-14 NBA season.
No NBA team is perfect, and heading into training camp, all 30 squads have at least one cause for distress.
For some, injures will be a concern. The Minnesota Timberwolves found that out during 2012-13, and the Los Angeles Lakers were right there with them.
For others, chemistry could be trouble. The Detroit Pistons did everything in their power to acquire talent in free agency, and while they clearly succeeded, we don’t yet know how they’ll jell once the season tips off.
Even the long-term prospects of impending free agents can be problematic for certain front offices. The Miami Heat should be looked at as the favorites entering the new year, but with question marks surrounding LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the organization can’t ignore the situation and hope it resolves itself.
The tricky part isn’t identifying the concern—it’s finding a remedy. Not all problems can be solved during training camp, which means the regular season could be laced with negative storylines regardless of what the win-loss column says.
Very few problems are unfixable at this point, but the sooner they’re addressed, the better.
Arguably the biggest storyline entering training camp for the Atlanta Hawks is the status of Lou Williams.
Just 39 games into the 2012-13 season, Williams tore his ACL and was forced to sit the rest of the year. His presence was sorely missed on the offensive end of the floor, and fans in Atlanta can’t wait to see him back on the court testing defenses from long range.
The problem for the Hawks is that the 26-year-old’s health is still in question. According to Nick Borges of ESPN.com (subscription required), no timetable has been set for his return as of Sept. 21, 2013.
The hope here is that the guard can reappear sooner rather than later, but waiting patiently has to be the approach. A premature return would be detrimental to his rehab, and if the team is smart, it will sacrifice a few wins toward the beginning of the year for a full roster once the playoffs roll around.
The easy answer here is that the Boston Celtics’ biggest nuisance is the health of Rajon Rondo. The point guard is hands-down the best player left on the team, yet he’s recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out of 44 games in 2012-13.
But while Rondo’s status is going to be something to keep an eye on, the bigger story in Beantown surrounds what the team will look like following the fire sale during the offseason.
Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are all gone. The three most prominent figures of the recent Celtics era are with new organizations, and Brad Stevens has been brought in to bring change during this next phase.
The Celtics are in the midst of a rebuild, and the truth is, we don’t know which of the current players will be around long enough to see it through. Forming an identity is going to be crucial for this prestigious organization, even if that identity involves sacrificing short-term achievements for long-term success.
If the Brooklyn Nets did anything during the 2013 offseason, they showed they’re willing to do what it takes to win right now.
Following the acquisition of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, this team became an instant contender. The problem is that it also became much older, and while nobody likes to prepare for injuries, you must be ready for them when your roster looks the way Brooklyn’s does.
Entering training camp, establishing a clear rotation is going to be crucial. The Nets have the depth to compensate for injuries, but cutting minutes throughout the year will be important toward keeping the stars healthy.
Brooklyn will compete with the East’s best for a spot atop the conference, but making sure everyone is involved will make all the difference if health is a problem late in the year.
The Charlotte Bobcats have shown through their recent actions that they’re serious about improving. The next step is to become a more proficient team from behind the arc, as long-range shooting is an essential part of today’s game.
During 2012-13, the Bobcats shot just 33.5 percent from the three-point line. That mark was only good enough for 27th in the league, giving them plenty of room to grow during training camp.
If the team can’t improve its shooting right away, there’s another option: be more creative on the offensive end.
With Al Jefferson on board, the Bobcats officially have a big man who can score down low. Using his skill set to attract defenses will allow players such as Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to move off the ball, giving the team a more dynamic approach than it’s had in years past.
Nobody is saying that Charlotte will contend with its roster as is, but the ability to spread the floor and make plays will create an offense that is entertaining to watch.
Derrick Rose made headlines during the 2012-13 season for all the wrong reasons, and the last thing he needs is to come back less productive than he was before he tore his ACL.
By all accounts, Rose is ready to return as strong as ever. According to Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com, the point guard is ready to begin the preseason with no limitations, and while he couldn’t discuss minutes, he did say he’d be ready to play right away.
All that said, we’d be remiss not to at least address the elephant in the room, which is the idea that Rose may come back a step slower, or even less confident.
For Rose, there’s no using the excuse that he returned too soon. Fans in Chicago have been waiting for his comeback, and it’s time for him to prove he’s still the player he was before the injury.
The 24-year-old will have all the support he needs around the Windy City, but a slow start to the year won’t be what fans are hoping for after an entire year off.
When it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, let’s just blanket their concerns under the “health” category.
Like most things when you’re talking about the Cavs, it all starts with Kyrie Irving. The 21-year-old played in just 59 games during his sophomore season, and while he was able to dazzle defenses during those contests, the team needs him on the floor in order to compete.
The next question mark has to belong to Andrew Bynum. We all knew he would be a risk for whichever team signed him, but according to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, the big man is “nowhere near ready” with training camp around the corner.
Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao are also variables, and while this team has a real chance of returning to the postseason, it can only do so if the roster can stay healthy.
For the second offseason in a row, the Dallas Mavericks swung and missed on signing a top-tier free agent. They wanted Dwight Howard, yet they ended up with Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and a collection of other players to make up a “Plan B” late in the process.
If that description sounds more like desperation than a plan, you’re not far off. Dallas miraculously put together a championship team in 2011, but they’ve clearly gone the other direction ever since.
The one constant in all of this is Dirk Nowitzki. The big man’s numbers dropped in 2013 because of his slow start, but this time around, he’ll have health on his side—or so the city of Dallas hopes.
As long as Nowitzki is healthy, expect Dallas to be a sleeper. That said, chemistry could be what prevents the team from making the playoffs.
This group must learn how to play around its star, and a big part of that comes from Ellis. The guard has been known to take horrible shots, and while his offensive talents will take pressure off Nowitzki, poor decision-making could be what lands the squad back in the lottery.
The Denver Nuggets have a number of concerns entering training camp.
First and foremost, establishing a true No. 1 option continues to be a hurdle. Three-point shooting will also be problematic if the team performs similarly to how it did in 2012-13.
Adjusting to Brian Shaw’s system will also be a variable, as getting players to jell early will help them find success late.
But while these are all legitimate worries, the fact is this: Danilo Gallinari would help alleviate all concerns if he were back in the rotation.
It’s true that the 25-year-old has never been a true go-to option, but he’s shown flashes of becoming that player. He also knocked down better than 37 percent of his three-point shots before getting hurt, giving the team a true threat from downtown.
At this point, there is no timeline for Gallinari’s return, according to Lee Melchionni, his agent, according to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Denver will have the challenge of starting the season without him, and integrating him into the system will be a whole different task part of the way through the year.
The Detroit Pistons made major headlines during the offseason with the acquisitions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. The problem is that games aren’t won on paper, and now the team must go out and compete as a collective unit.
During training camp, establishing a frontcourt rotation is going to be vital to the team’s overall well-being. Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Smith have all earned the right to play, but finding a way to maximize each skill set will be the tricky part.
In the backcourt, Maurice "Mo" Cheeks must also figure out how to get Jennings his looks without taking too much away from the bigs. Jennings is a lights-out shooter when he’s feeling it, but the problem is, efficiency has been a problem during the early part of his career.
If all goes according to plan, the Pistons will be one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. They have talent all over the floor, and their best players will earn them more national coverage than they’ve seen in a long time.
The problems will arise if egos get in the way. This team must be willing to share the spotlight, and just as importantly, it must be willing to accept blame in order to make adjustments.
The Golden State Warriors entered the 2012-13 season as a much-improved team. It was widely assumed they would make a push toward the playoffs, but what they did in the postseason surprised a lot of people around the Association.
Now, with a successful playoff push under their belts—not to mention the acquisition of Andre Iguodala—the Warriors are looked at as contenders, and nobody will be surprised by what they accomplish in 2014.
Entering training camp, you could point to a number of areas that might be concerning. For starters, the team has to make a tough decision when it comes to the shooting guard and small forward positions. Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson are all worthy of a starting spot, but one must come off the bench as an instant spark.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of health. Most recently, David Lee and Andrew Bogut have received attention in that category, but there’s always the looming concern that Stephen Curry’s ankle could cause trouble.
The truth is, though, if the aforementioned concerns take a turn for the worst, it will ultimately mean the team doesn’t meet its lofty expectations. The Warriors are no longer stuck in the basement of the Western Conference, and with a passionate fanbase on their side, it’s time they take the next step toward greatness in 2014.
Talk all you want about the Houston Rockets’ defensive troubles. Even go as far as to say that Jeremy Lin’s consistency will be an X-factor game in and game out.
When it comes to "Clutch City," chemistry on the court has to be the No. 1 concern entering training camp.
For those who believe the Rockets will click right away, fans in Houston sure hope you’re right. The team has a young rotation with health on its side, and Howard will ideally enter the season 100 percent—not to mention surrounded by players near his own age.
All that said, you can’t assume anything when it comes to the NBA. The Lakers taught us that in 2013, and we’ll cross our fingers that the same doesn’t happen to an ultra-exciting Rockets team in 2014.
Typically, a team that averaged just 94.7 points per game would be concerned about its offense entering a new year. Even further, a team that shot the ball just 43.6 percent—the fifth-worst mark in the league—would be petrified when it came to keeping up with opposing offenses.
That’s not the case, though, for the Indiana Pacers, as their defense more than made up the difference and landed them a spot in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.
Entering the 2013-14 campaign, the big question is whether or not the team can re-integrate Danny Granger into the system. More specifically, people want to know how he will co-exist with Paul George, who has become the team’s cornerstone piece moving forward.
According to Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star, the two believe there will be no problems, and Larry Bird agrees. "Larry Legend" was quoted as saying, “I think it’s a great combo,” and that George will ultimately take the pressure off Granger.
If this is the case, fans in Indiana have reason for optimism. The team needs a bit of an offensive spark, and getting it without losing anybody in the process is a best-case scenario.
However, in the situation where the two don’t work well together, it may be time to look at moving Granger sooner rather than later.
Fans may love the “Lob City” moniker that has been bestowed upon the Los Angeles Clippers, but it’s time for this team to get defensive under Doc Rivers.
During the offseason, the headlines focused on the arrival of Rivers, as well as J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison, Byron Mullens, Antawn Jamison and Reggie Bullock. Those guys help make a deep team even deeper, and depth is something this squad will have over most around the league.
But while those names give people plenty to talk about, you can’t ignore that fact that not one of those players will give the Clippers any help on the defensive block.
Entering training camp, Rivers must focus on getting his current crew to focus on defense. He can’t assume a move will be made midseason that will bail him out, and specifically, he has to hone in on Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The two big men are incredible athletes, but they’ve yet to prove they can consistently challenge opponents from the defensive side of the floor. This team is loaded with talent, but as the saying goes: Defense wins championships.
Health will make or break the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2013-14 campaign.
Following a year that was as tumultuous as anyone imagined, Los Angeles now faces a season with just as many question marks. Steve Nash isn’t any younger—neither is Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant’s recover will be the deciding factor in a run toward the playoffs or a run toward the lottery.
The truth is, there’s reason for optimism around L.A. If Bryant comes back strong early in the year, he, Nash and Gasol have a chance to establish true chemistry in their second year together.
Dwight Howard is gone, and while most reasonable fans recognize this as a loss, it gives Gasol a chance to return to All-Star form.
The Lakers still have talented players, but if those guys can’t find the floor most of the year, they’ll do very little good in street clothes on the bench.
For fans across the league, the glaring concern for the Memphis Grizzlies might appear be the insertion of a new head coach. Dave Joerger, however, isn’t taking over a rebuilding roster; he’s been promoted to help the team take the next step toward an NBA title.
The pressure will be on for Joerger to succeed—or at least not regress—but the real concern lies behind the three-point line. During 2012-13, the Grizzlies attempted the fewest long-range shots of any other team, and they shot just 34.5 percent along the way.
During the postseason, we saw the San Antonio Spurs take advantage of this deficiency, as they honed in on stopping the low-post offense, allowing Memphis to fire away unsuccessfully from beyond the arc.
It’s true that Memphis has a great defense, but in today’s NBA, spreading the floor is a must. The Grizzlies are no exception, and if they can work on improving that aspect of their game, they’ll have a deadly combination of offense and defense once the playoffs roll around.
The Miami Heat are going to be the favorites entering 2013-14. They’re the back-to-back champs for a reason, and even though interior defense has been a problem in the past, Chris Andersen—as well as Greg Oden—should make fans forget about that by the end of the season.
The biggest concern for Miami has to be the looming contract situation regarding its Big Three. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could all choose to opt out in 2014, and the team can’t sit back and hope for the best during the regular season.
Pat Riley needs to come up with a game plan and put it into action. He can’t go into the offseason blind, and while these distractions won’t stop the Heat from contending this year, they’ll be a major focus throughout the course of the season.
For the league’s worst bottom-feeders, lacking a true star is hardly a problem. They know they won’t compete for a spot in the playoffs, which means a go-to scorer would only inhibit their ability to play for the No. 1 pick.
The Milwaukee Bucks, on the other hand, would like to earn a berth in the postseason, which is going to be difficult without the star power to compete out East.
For the truest of fans, let’s say Larry Sanders has it in him to become a star. He’ll impact shots at the rim night in and night out, but players of his caliber don’t win titles on their own in this day and age.
There’s also O.J. Mayo. The guy knows how to do a little bit of everything, but he’s been far too inconsistent to cement himself as a star.
It’s possible that the Bucks see a star looming on their roster, but the more likely scenario is that they’re a middle-of-the-road team in a top-heavy conference. Training camp will be a good time to sort out who gets a majority of the shots, but don’t expect anyone to emerge as a star anytime soon.
Success starts and ends with Kevin Love when it comes to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Love spent a majority of the 2012-13 season sidelined, and as a result, the team failed to reach its own expectations. The big man performed admirably on the glass, as he averaged 14 boards per contest, but he couldn’t stay on the floor long enough to fix his inefficient shooting.
The problem for Minnesota is that Love wasn’t the only player lost to injuries. Luke Ridnour was the only player to see action in all 82 games, and nobody truly picked up the slack with the star on the bench (although Nikola Pekovic proved to be a nice surprise).
If Minnesota can stay healthy in 2014, it will contend for a spot in the playoffs. The Western Conference is much-improved entering the season, but the Wolves can include themselves in that category with the addition of Kevin Martin.
Consider the New Orleans Pelicans one of the teams out West that improved drastically during the offseason.
New Orleans was able to take advantage of the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers by acquiring Jrue Holiday on draft night. It also picked up Tyreke Evans, who will play alongside a hopefully recovered Eric Gordon to provide more offensive firepower.
These additions to the rotation will be huge difference-makers in 2014, but the biggest boom-or-bust factor has to be the health of Anthony Davis.
During his rookie season, Davis showed that he can impact both sides of the floor. We all knew about his defensive assets coming into the league, but his face-up game and ball-handling skills surprised most casual fans who saw him exclusively as a shot-blocker.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, they only got to experience their future star to the tune of 64 games. Keeping him on the floor is the goal during his sophomore year, otherwise the question must be asked whether or not injuries will remain a theme deep into the future.
Offense wins games, defense wins championships.
If any team in the NBA helps defend this often-used cliché, it’s the New York Knicks.
The Knicks won 54 games during the 2012-13 season because of their ability to simply put the ball in the basket. Carmelo Anthony played efficient basketball all over the floor, and the team lived by the three, shooting 37.6 percent on a league-high 28.9 attempts from behind the arc.
The problem comes when you look at the latter part of the aforementioned platitude, as a lack of defense has meant a lack of postseason success.
Defense is going to be a concern, yet again, against for the Knicks. The move to bring in Andrea Bargnani will help spread the floor on offense, but once again, offense has never been the problem.
If the Knicks want to succeed on a greater level, they’ll have to buckle down defensively for an entire season, and that mentality must begin in training camp.
Two offseasons in a row now, the Oklahoma City Thunder have had to say goodbye to their No. 3 scorer.
First, James Harden, now Kevin Martin.
The easy answer is Serge Ibaka, as he’s continuing to stretch his range, and he averaged 12.8 points during the 2012-13 season. But while Ibaka certainly has the potential to become an integral part of the offense, it will be interesting to see players like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb step up with Martin off to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Durant and Westbrook will continue to run the show, but as we saw during the 2013 playoffs, this team needs a third option, especially when one of the two stars becomes unavailable.
Unlike the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are looking for their third scoring option, the Orlando Magic will attempt to find a go-to scorer and a best player moving forward.
The 2012-13 record doesn’t show it, but the Magic have a lot of good, young pieces. There’s a lot of potential when it comes to Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless, and you can’t forget about incoming rookie Victor Oladipo as well.
This is a squad that is starting over, which means veteran presences such as Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis will likely be overtaken by the youngsters in the rotation. For that reason, a push toward the playoffs will be virtually impossible.
But while success won’t be imminent for this group of prospects, another year in the lottery and more experience for the current players will make a difference entering the 2014-15 season.
During the 2012-13 season, the Portland Trail Blazers had one of the worst benches we’d seen in quite some time. The group averaged a league-worst 18.5 points per game, according to HoopsStats.com, and it was near or at the bottom of every other major statistical category.
That set of reserves was bad to an incredibly high level, but that could be exactly what we’re saying about the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013-14.
Simply put, this team is built for the lottery, and the bench is a big reason why. Kwame Brown is the most recognized name by fans across the league, and it’s going to be tough to find scoring from anybody at any position.
The problem for Philly is that it doesn’t have the offensive firepower to make up the difference in the starting lineup. The Portland starters went on score more points than any other starting five in the NBA, which isn’t something the Sixers can count on at this point in the process.
When the Phoenix Suns entered the post-Steve Nash era, we knew they would look different. They attempted to mask the absence of their once-celebrated star with numerous free agents, but the fact is, this is a crew without much direction at this point in the process.
Phoenix was never known as a defensive squad with Nash running the show, but a furious offensive attack helped make up the difference. With Nash gone, the team fell to 21st in scoring and 28th in three-point shooting.
Of the signings following Nash’s departure, Michael Beasley was supposed to be the one to turn a corner. As it turned out, he’s already gone, having been waived during the offseason.
This team isn’t going to find its identity during training camp, but it can devote itself to improving on both sides of the ball. Developing a team-oriented persona won’t happen overnight, but a young squad with exciting players can at least put on a respectable show for fans night in and night out.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a whole bunch of potential and a whole lot of question marks. Entering training camp, let’s focus on rim protection, as they were last in points allowed in the paint in 2013, according to Team Rankings.
The Blazers have brought in Robin Lopez to be a force in the middle, and while he’s never been known as a true enforcer, he averaged a respectable 1.6 blocks in 26 minutes last season. He’ll be a clear upgrade over J.J. Hickson at center, but the problem is that he won’t have much help throughout the rest of the roster.
Off the bench, the team has 7’1” Meyers Leonard, but despite his height, he was bullied down low his entire rookie season. LaMarcus Aldridge has become a decent defender, but his game is still most valued on the offensive end.
Portland needs a second player to step up alongside Lopez, but entering training camp, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
Luckily for the Sacramento Kings, it looks as if the organization is going to wrap up this concern before the regular season begins.
According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Kings are in contract negotiations with DeMarcus Cousins. The two sides have until Oct. 31 to reach an agreement, which will keep him from testing the free-agent waters during the 2014 offseason.
Getting this cleared up early doesn’t negate the problems the team will see on the court, but it does give a sense of stability to an organization that has recently been in flux. Cousins himself has been a source of uncertainty for quite some time, and signing a long-term deal will give the Kings and their fans the idea that they’ve found a true franchise player.
The only question that remains is: How much is Cousins ultimately worth? That’s a topic that will be debated for a while, as his max-contract talents have been seemingly cancelled by his knuckle-headed antics.
The San Antonio Spurs have proven time and time again that age means very little when you’re coached as well as they are. They nearly won it all in 2013, and that’s with a 37-year-old Tim Duncan and a 31-year-old Tony Parker leading the way.
But while Gregg Popovich and his crew continue to amaze us, the truth is that they do lack an athleticism that would help them overcome teams like the Miami Heat.
Entering training camp, look to see how the Spurs’ youngsters have grown since their finals appearance. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are two of the building blocks of this organization, and they will act as such during the 2013-14 season.
The problem is that we saw the Western Conference improve during the summer, and San Antonio doesn’t fit into that category. It picked up Marco Belinelli, but it doesn’t have the edge that a number of its competitors do at this point in the process.
The Toronto Raptors have a lot of upside with Rudy Gay, Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry running the show. However, a clash of talent and an imbalance of depth makes you wonder if chemistry will be an issue in 2013-14.
One of the biggest acquisitions of the summer for this group has to be the new general manager. Masai Ujiri, the reigning Executive of the Year, was brought in from the Denver Nuggets, and you know he won’t be afraid to pull the trigger on a deal during the regular season.
At this point, it’s worth testing the talent before making a drastic move. The core on this roster is young and talented, and if all cylinders click, Toronto will be looking at a return to the postseason.
The problem is, along with a potential clash of talent, there is very little depth at center and point guard. Aaron Gray and Dwight Buycks are slated to back up their respective positions, yet the other spots on the floor are almost overloaded at this point in the process.
This team needs to find a balance, or else, the man in charge will look to shake things up.
The Utah Jazz saw a plethora of changes during the 2013 offseason. They brought in a handful of veterans in the form of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush, yet they did it without sacrificing their youth.
The core of this team is relatively inexperienced, but if you’re a fan of the Jazz, you know that’s actually a good thing. Utah will compete for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, and it’s going to get its young prospects a lot of playing time along the way.
If you’re looking for wins, stay away from the Jazz in 2013-14. They don’t want to win, and chances are, they won’t.
Know, however, that the losing ways are for a greater purpose. Inexperience always turns into experience, and in the case of the Jazz, they’re hoping to expedite that process by adding talent through the draft and free agency in 2014.
The Washington Wizards have done everything in their power to bolster their backcourt. John Wall earned a max-money deal during the offseason, the team re-signed Martell Webster and it also brought in Eric Maynor to back up the point guard spot.
Don’t forget, either, that Bradley Beal is entering his sophomore season, and the new rookie on board is Otto Porter Jr.
The question marks lie in the frontcourt. The Wizards have Emeka Okafor and Nene Hilario occupying the 4 and 5 spots, but with their inconsistency and health problems, you’d like to see greater depth.
To Washington’s credit, it came away with a shrewd acquisition of Al Harrington. The 33-year-old was an under-the-radar signing to say the least, but you have to wonder if he’ll make up the difference with Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin ahead of him in the rotation.
It’s been said that the NBA has transitioned down to a little man’s game, and if that’s true, the Wizards will be OK. That said, there’s no denying the value of a dominant big man—something this team lacks entering training camp.